SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – From walk-on to captain. That is the journey Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes has taken this season.
Barnes is coming off the best game of his career, leading the Utes to a 34-32 win over USC last Saturday, when he threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 57 yards and another TD. With Cam Rising out for the season, the team is now looking to Barnes to lead them to a third straight Pac-12 Championship.
“He seems to get better each week,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “He completed over 6 percent of his balls. We did have the one pick-six that I know he would’ve wanted back, but he did a very nice job of running the offense. He just seems to continue to grow and develop which is a good thing. Obviously, it’s a big positive for us.”
Barnes started the season at quarterback with a win over Florida, but was benched in the fourth quarter of the Baylor game. After freshman Nate Johnson faltered, Barnes was back in as the starter, and he has thrived. The Utes are 5-0 in games that he has started.
“Man, I love Bryson Barnes,” said offensive lineman Keaton Bills. “Me and him have been pretty close friends since he’s been here, and just to see him go out there and compete at that level was amazing. After the game I just went up to him and hugged him and said I’m so proud of you and it was such a fun night.”
Barnes got all the first team reps in practice last week, which obviously helped, but Rising being out did not affect his preparation.
“I feel like I was going to kind of prepare the same way regardless, you know,” Barnes said. “When he was kind of back earlier this season taking some reps it didn’t change the way I was preparing. So at the end of the day it wasn’t going to change much.”
“Bryson Barnes is one of those guys who’s in here watching film on his own, coming in early doing the things, those little things to get prepared,” Bills said. “So when he’s back there you know he’s prepared and he’s going to do his job.”
Even after losing the starting job, Barnes did not get down on himself, knowing his number could be called again at any time.
“He never was not confident, but he seems very sure of himself and very confident in what he’s doing,” Whittingham said. “Really taking charge, and just running the team like a quarterback should run it. That ‘it’ factor of a leader on the field is really starting to manifest for him.”
“My mindset is that the whole thing is just control what I can control,” Barnes said. “Injuries and those types of things are things outside of my control so I just got to do what I got to do.”
Barnes’ resiliency and tenacity has impressed all of his teammates and coaches.
“That position entails being able to manage the offense,” said wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted. “He can manage the offense, and he’s shown me he’s very capable of going and making plays for us with the ball in the air or just with his legs and it’s pretty cool to see.”
Barnes and the 13th-ranked Utes will take on #8 Oregon in a monumental game Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 1:30 p.m.